BAYOU VISTA — For years, residents in Bayou Vista and Old Bayou Vista were given the option to pay an extra $15 on their monthly water bill to help support local fire and emergency medical services. A proposition on the May ballot would make that fee mandatory.
The fee is necessary, the fire department’s board said, because the money coming in is barely enough to cover the department’s expenses.
Paula Eshelman, vice president of the Bayou Vista Fire Department board, said it costs about $9,800 to $11,000 a month just in payroll for the fire department that has a hybrid staff of paid firefighters and volunteers. The paid firefighters staff the firehouse around the clock each day, while volunteers are called upon to battle blazes.
Since the $15 fee has been voluntary, the fire department gets about $10,000 to $11,000 a month, just enough to cover the payroll, but not enough to cover the costs of supplies and maintenance.
The City of Bayou Vista kicks in about $3,750 a month in addition to the fees collected.
More than a third of the residents don’t pay the voluntary fee, and the number who pay has dropped dramatically since 2009.
In that year, the fire department collected about $144,000. Last year, it was less than $132,000, and operation costs have jumped.
It is estimated that about 63 percent of the 1,190 property owners pay the voluntary fee. As a result, the department has run a significant deficit each of the past four years.
In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the deficit was $6,566. It ballooned to $22,057 in 2010-11 and dropped to $13,771 for 2011-12. Last year, the department dipped into its dwindling reserve funds for an additional $5,515, records show.
That’s why, Eshelman said, the fee is needed.
While the ballot measure calls for a fee of up to $17.50, the plan is to leave it at $15, she said. If at some point the department needs more money to operate, the fire board could raise it to $17.50.
But only if voters approve the measure.
Eshelman said it appears the fee has support.
A survey of the 1,190 residents within the community showed most people supported a fee. Many stated they wished it would stay at $15, she said.
Eshelman did not say How many of the surveys were answered.
While voters in the Omega Bay subdivision can vote on the proposal, those residents, who actually live in the city of La Marque, can vote on the proposal because they live in the Municipal Utility District No. 12 taxing district.
MUD 12 is the actual taxing entity that called for the election, so even though they don’t have to pay the fee, by law the Omega Bay residents have to be able to vote.
If approved by voters, the fire department would get between $6,000 and $6,500 a month.
That extra money would go to pay down the department’s debt, which is primarily the cost of its newer fire engine, bolster the department’s maintenance budget, boost firefighter training, upgrade medical equipment and set aside more in the reserve budget.
The bulk of the new money — about $3,250 — would go to hiring more staff to work high-volume call times.
In 2013, the department responded to 258 calls. Of those, 74 percent were EMS calls, department figures show.
Without the funds, the department is likely to cut staffing levels and warned that response times would be longer.
Early voting continues through May 6. Election day is May 10.